Final Exam is an action 2.5D sidescrolling Xbox Live Arcade game developed by Mighty Rocket Studios and published by Focus Home Interactive. It seemed to have come out of nowhere, however it caught my eye with it’s up to 4-player co-op capabilities and 2.5Dness, meaning it looks 2D but has a 3D feel to the environments. Billed as a frenzied slugfest I am intrigued as to whether I can keep up with the pace of the game and whether it can hold my attention throughout.
Let me start with what it’s all about, the idea is four friends (Joe, Sean, Cassy & Nathan) are getting together for a school reunion and a jolly good time. Not everything goes to plan as they arrive at a mutant infested area and they need to fight their way out. The aim is to survive and escape, much like school itself, in this massive test… that some would call their Final Exam.
As always the tutorial is up first to get to grips with how to play. This is a rather slow yet informative mini level that covers the basic things you can do with all characters. Even when I knew what was coming round the next corner, and with a cartoony graphic style, things were still a little jumpy when a mutant came out from nowhere to attack you.. There are a few additional attacks to learn as you progress through the main game, but there is enough help here to see you through the majority of battles.
Well the speed of play certainly fluctuates once you embark on any of the 8 levels, frantic doesn’t quite do it justice, however I will come back to that. The general mission is to reach the end of the levels by completing various objectives, that vary from escorting children to safety, or collecting mutants for a blender to make the ultimate smoothie. All areas have upper or lower parts for the inner adventurer to explore and the game will lead you to most of these in order to succeed in objectives. But if you don’t realise that then you’ll end up looking everywhere first, only to be taken back there seconds later. This meant I wasted a lot of time revisiting parts whilst I was searching for collectibles, including weapon crates and orb like objects, to get the unlock upgrade points.
Wait just a minute though, you don’t just explore but also destroy any ugly looking mutants that block your path. A decent list of enemies ranging from the Hitter (one that hits you), to the Kamikaze (self exploder), each is named rather aptly for what its attack is going to be. Here is the double edged sword though; all the standard enemies can be killed easily with a few melee attacks which makes it better when surrounded by hordes. Sadly there’s only so many times you can repeatedly bash X before it becomes a chore, or switching to guns that run out of ammo too quick. The TANK is the standout mutant, my favourite to take on as it becomes more of a dodge and attack style battle, that takes more hits to kill but needs a bit more thinking then usual.
I mentioned the pace; it can be a quiet subway to wander around where the odd mutant will square up to you. Or alternatively the horde is coming and you need keep on swinging those weapons as a shed load of mutants come at you. It’s good to have that change, but also gets overwhelming on high difficulty levels.
The weapons and character abilities are game changers, more so the latter. Depending on how you’d want to approach each level, deciding which character to upgrade could be key to survive. Personally I went for Joe who excels in brute force hand-to-hand combat, but there are three others suitable for explosives, range or a mixture. There are enough abilities to improve your domination in levels which will help get higher scores, they put quite a bit of emphasis on getting massive hit combos that give more points and in turn take you up the leaderboards. Nothing is more annoying than getting 322 hits and then taking a swipe from a mutant to end it; a lovely touch here is that you can bank big combos before you lose them.
Upon completion there’s a new mode that unlocks, a plain and simple Time Attack where you have a set amount of time to survive and kill as many zombies as you can. I attempted this twice before realising it isn’t for me, simply put its just a load of button bashing for what seems like ages.
As a co-op game I experienced most of it online when I finally found a few random team mates to give me a hand. Although I enjoyed it more in a group, and I doubt I would have managed the final fight solo, unfortunately it just hastened the speed of finishing a level. An already short game became doable in just over four hours.
Final Exam is a sometimes frantic sidescroller with a good set of environments, but has a bit too much of the same thing. Will it pass a half hour of time? Sure, it is pretty fun in short spells, just don’t expect to be entertained for the duration. Priced at £6.75, it might be worth a punt if you fancy a little mindless killing or have a few friends that own it too. You can download it directly from the Xbox Games Store – Final Exam.